Van Jones, President of Green for All and a Nation contributor, came to DC on Thursday to talk to the House Select Committee on EnergyIndependence and Global Warming about a Green (and fair) New Deal. Testifying along with Jones werePhiladelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer.
Jones spoke of the “new tools…new training…and new technology”that would “begin to put some green rungs on America’s ladder ofopportunity.” He took on the “falsehoods and confusion” spread by”vocal opponents and naysayers” who oppose investing in a new greeneconomy and breaking our dependence on fossil fuels.
Jones set the record straight on the notion that green jobs are afantasy–“Buck Rogers jobs, or science fiction jobs, or George Jetsonjobs”–and pointed to the section of the Green Jobs Act (passed in2007, but not funded–evidence he said of the need to “moveaggressively from inspiration to implementation”) that spells out theexact kinds of job-training programs and industries eligible forsupport, some of which are: energy efficient and retro-fittingconstruction jobs; renewable power industry; biofuels industry; andmanufacturing of sustainable products using environmentally sustainablematerials.
He addressed the myth that for every green job created a gray job willbe lost–“the zero sum critique.” He pointed to the report GreenRecovery by the Center for American Progress and the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), which suggests that investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy “creates four times as many jobs as the same moneyinvested in the oil industry.”
And then there is the myth that the green economy will hurt the poor bydriving up energy prices. Jones spoke to the jobs created and costssaved through energy efficiency; and the economies of scale achievedthrough investment which will drive down the prices of technologies. “Awell thought out shift to a clean energy economy offers more work, morewealth, and better health to disadvantaged communities than does anyplausible business-as-usual scenario,” he said.
In terms of making this shift to a new economy, both Mayors talked about”ready-to-go projects”, some of which–such as certain weatherizationprojects — would require as little as two weeks training. Mayor Nuttersaid Philadelphia hires high school graduates for its weatherizationstaff at a starting rate of $12 per hour plus benefits. The averagesalary of the staff is $35,000-40,000 per year, with salaries andpromotions tied to a standard industry certification process. MayorPalmer spoke of 427 cities that have already identified 942 projects forpotential Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant funding, for aninvestment of $6.2 billion that would create 38,732 jobs. He said theUS Conference of Mayors will be updating that survey this weekend based on responses from 779 cities. (It will be important to watch how recovery funds are allocated–through governors or mayors–and the tensions around that.)
After the hearing Jones spoke to The Nation about this issue of who thegreen jobs will go to–if the market will ensure that lower-incomecommunities get a stake in the new green economy as New York Timescolumnist Tom Friedman and others have suggested.
“Number one, there’s nothing natural about a green economy, that willproduce justice, equity, or opportunity. The gray economy didn’t do it,and the green economy won’t do it on its own,” Jones said. “Solarpanels do not have embedded within them equal opportunity. That’ssomething that we have to as a community–working through government–insist upon…. If we fail to do that we have no excuse. Becausethis is not our great grandmother’s economy, or our great grandfather’seconomy we’re trying to fix and integrate. We’re about to build aneconomy… and we need to do it in a way Dr. King would be proud of. Ifthe market would take care of these things there would have been nocivil rights movement. If the market would take care of these things wewouldn’t have the suffragette movement. If the market would take careof these things we wouldn’t have the labor movement. You need more thanmarket to have an inclusive, green economy. And, if it’s not inclusive,it will not be sustainable politically or economically…. If you don’tbuild in economic and political sustainability, i.e. spread the risk andthe reward, share the burden and the benefits, then all you’re doing issetting this up for a populist, anti-green backlash–an alliancebetween polluters and poor people. So when the poor say, ‘You’re justtrying to impose green taxes on me,’ the whole thing will become a houseof cards. It’s not just the moral thing to do–though that would beenough. It’s also the only intelligent political and long-termsustainable economic thing to do.”
So how are we doing in terms of the current recovery proposal?
“We have a way to go [for this]…It’s hard in the age of Obama whenwe’re not supposed to talk about race anymore, to keep telling thetruth,” he said. “But here’s the thing that I take my hope in: this isa new day. If you look at most of the people who are in the cleanenergy sector, politically they tend to lean more in a liberaldirection…. There’s an opening. This is not the kind of thing wherein the past you had to just lay down in the streets, protest, picket,call folks racist and stuff like that. There is at least a hope and anopportunity that we can have a dialogue, and remind people that that Dr.King picture on their wall– should have something to do with whoyou’re hiring.”
There you have it–speaking truth to power about the green revolution.
With reporting from Capitol Hill by Greg Kaufmann, a freelance writerliving in his disenfranchised hometown of Washington, DC.